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Saving Money on Groceries by Making a Menu

Updated on February 13, 2015
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The Why and How

Everyone wants to save money on their grocery bill and many articles have already been written on the subject. In this article, I would like to show you how you can save money, time, and stress by creating a weekly or monthly menu. By following sale flyers and making a plan, you can eat reasonably priced, healthy, in season food and never have the stress of deciding ‘what’s for dinner’ at 4:00 in the afternoon.

Start when your weekly grocery flyers come out. In most places, the paper flyers are delivered on the same day each week. These days, flyers are usually available online as well. Start by reading the front and back pages of each flyer. These products are likely to be the cheapest, as they are designed to get you into the store, in hopes you will also buy several other items.

If chicken legs are on the front cover, make a note of that and plan to add chicken to your menu. Once you’ve inspected the front and back covers of the flyers, read the inside pages. This should give you a good snapshot of what groceries are the best price this week.

Next, take out a blank sheet of paper, or open a wordprocessing program on your computer and make a list of every day of the week. Under each day, write or type ‘Breakfast’, ‘Lunch’, and ‘Supper’. Now, keeping in mind the sale priced items, start to fill in your meal plans for each day of the week. Have your daily planner or family calendar close by while you prepare the menu. If you have an early morning meeting on Wednesday, that probably isn’t the time to attempt to make homemade waffles.

Have You Tried Menu Planning Before?

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Don’t take this process too seriously. It doesn’t have to be written in stone. Take into account your family’s likes and dislikes, and do your best to come up with twenty one meals. Remember that simple is usually better. There is nothing wrong with having cereal and toast every weekday morning, then planning a more time consuming breakfast like eggs for Saturday. Don’t forget desserts and beverages if applicable. If you know you want to have orange juice every morning for breakfast, jot that down in your menu.

Once your menu is finished, you’ll be ready to prepare your shopping list. Get out the recipes you’ll need to prepare each meal and go through them one at a time, estimating how much of each ingredient you’ll need for the week. Don’t forget individual spices. The goal is to avoid making any extra trips to the store this week. Try to group the items into the sections you’ll find them in the store, such as dairy, meat, baking, frozen, etc.

Once you have your menu and shopping list complete, plan your trip to the grocery store. If saving time is important to you, as it is to most of us, try to shop during off-peak hours. I find that early in the morning, or right over the supper hour is when the stores are the quietest.

Sample Weekly Menu

 
Breakfast
Lunch
Supper
Sunday
Bagels and Milk
Main: Lasagne; Vegetable: Cauliflower
Main: Chicken salad wraps
Monday
Cereal and Juice
Main: Vegetable Soup; Side: Salmon Sandwich
Main: Chicken Pot Pie
Tuesday
Waffles and Milk
Main: Chicken with BBQ Sauce; Side: Rice
 
Wednesday
Bagels and Milk
Main: Chicken Nuggets; Side: French Fries; Vegetable: Corn
Main: Grilled Cheese Sandwich
Thursday
Bagels and Milk
Main: Tortilla Wraps w/hamburger, tomato sauce, lettuce and cheese; Side: Potato Chips
Main: Tuna Sandwich; Side: Carrot Sticks
Friday
Cereal and Juice
Main: Brocolli Beef Stir Fry; Side: Rice
Main: Chicken Pot Pie
Saturday
Waffles and Milk
Main: Pizza
Leftovers

Now, at this point you are probably wondering how all this work is going to save you time and money. Here’s how it works. By planning ahead, you are much less likely to run out of something and have to make an extra trip to the store. This will save you time. Chances are, if you make that extra trip, you will impulse purchase other items you didn’t really need. Therefore, staying out of the store when you aren’t shopping with a plan will save you money. Of course, that’s a little too simple, but don’t worry, there’s more.

Have a look at the sample menu I made. With a quick glance, you can see there are a number of meals requiring hamburger. You will need it for the lasagne, the spaghetti sauce, the tortilla wraps and the stir fry. You may be able to get a better price on the hamburger by buying it in bulk (though if it’s on the menu this many times this week, we’re assuming it’s on for a very good sale price.) In the area of time saving, how nice would it be to bring all that fresh hamburger home and brown it all at once. Depending on how long it is between hamburger meals, you can either save the remainder in the refrigerator, or freeze it. Next time you need browned hamburger, you can simple add it to your recipe and save the time it would’ve taken to brown it. You’ll also only have to wash the frying pan once. Try to prepare food in bulk and refrigerate or freeze the unused portions. It takes getting used to at first, but it will become second nature after awhile and you will save time and energy, since it takes a similar amount of electricity to cook a small amount of food, as it does a large amount.

Another way to greatly reduce your food costs is to avoid food wastes. This means, among other things, that you may have to be flexible with your menu as the week goes on. If the head of broccoli you bought early in the week is starting to look a little less fresh, then you might want to make your stir fry ahead of its planned day. Estimate how much of each perishable food you will need and be as accurate as possible. There is no point in buying the largest head of lettuce on the shelf if you are a household of two and only able to consume half of it before it goes bad. It’s also not a bad idea to plan for a meal of leftovers.

Notes on Buying in Bulk

Most people assume that anything in bulk must be a better price. Often this is true, but the key to finding the very best prices is unit prices. Unit prices are how much a certain unit (in Canada, usually 100g or 100ml) costs. Here is an example: today a certain brand of yogurt is on sale. The cost is $2.00 for 650g. Rounded to the nearest hundredth, this means it is $0.308/100g. Often this unit price is written in fine print somewhere on the price tag. Use it to your advantage. Sometimes, the smaller sized item is actually the better unit price.

Pricematching

Many stores offer pricematching. This is my favourite money-saving option when it comes to groceries. I have never really gotten the hang of coupons and the like, but I love being able to take the flyer from Store A into Store B and get Store A’s price. For instance, at one store this week, a leading brand of cookies is on sale for $197/500g. It’s at a store I won’t be travelling by this week, but if I take the flyer to another store, I can still get the cookies for this price.

Policies on pricematching vary from store to store. Usually as long as brand and size of package are the same, the store will accept the sale price of another store, though sometimes they limit how many items you can price match at one time.

Loyalty Programs

I have a couple ‘frequent flyer’ type cards for different stores. Both cards allow me to collect points that can eventually be redeemed for free product. I also have one that allows me to earn free gas, which is a plus when you drive a pick-up truck. Take advantage of programs like these. Most of them are free to join and over time can add up to a lot of savings.

Loaded Spaghetti, a staple on many of our menus.
Loaded Spaghetti, a staple on many of our menus. | Source

A Few More Hints

In conclusion, here’s a summary of things to remember while grocery shopping:

Shop with a plan. If you don’t come up with a detailed menu, at least come up with a detailed list and stick to it.

Work towards having a well stocked pantry. This will help you cope with unexpected events (such as guests dropping in) and save you money because you can stock up on your staples when they are on supersale.

Don’t shop when you’re hungry. Of course this is a well known shopping rule, but how often do we break it? I myself have ended up going out with a bag of chips, or some other poor choice, then eating way too many of them just because I was in the store when I was hungry.

I hope you found this article useful and that it gave you new ideas on how to plan for a successful grocery shopping experience that will save you time, money and stress.

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